When Os Mutantes released their wonderful English language version of Caetano Veloso’s “Baby” in 1971, they provided a small but perfectly formed map of what made Anglo-Brazilian music so appealing, a cosmopolitan and knowing mix of different linguistic and musical cultures that did not let its potential cheesiness eclipse its utter cool. “You know, it’s time now to learn Portuguese / It’s time to learn what I know”, they sang, a lesson which had already been taught by other artists (Veloso himself, Astrud and João Gilberto, and all the jazz artists who had been exploring the Brazilian sound for over a decade by then) but which itself was part of a much longer tradition of cultural cannibalism.
Bebel Gilberto is an inheritor of this tradition, connected both by blood (she is João Gilberto’s daughter and Chico Buarque’s niece) and by sensibility to the bossa nova, samba, and Tropicalismo artists who forged the Brazilian sound. She has acknowledged this debt through cover versions of a number of artists (Baden Powell, Vinicius de Moraes, Buarque, and Veloso). She recorded the English language version of “Baby” on her self-titled album for Ziriguiboom in 2004 (her second album to receive international distribution) and has covered a number of standards from the Anglo-American songbook. Far more notable, though, has been her own songwriting, which has shown an intelligence in its ability to continue the Anglo-Brazilian tradition through its bilingual lyrics and fusion of sounds. The innovations have come, as for many contemporary updates of regional styles, via technological developments (new beats, electronic instruments, production techniques, and so on) rather than any obvious alteration to the music’s DNA.
Gilberto’s fourth album All In One is her debut album for Verve, which means she now shares a label with Diana Krall (who released her own take on the Anglo-Brazilian tradition earlier this year) and Melody Gardot (whose laidback vocals have a warmness not dissimilar to Gilberto’s). Like those artists, Gilberto delivers an album that seems designed for comfort and easy listening, featuring slow-to-medium tempo songs which are unchallenging but beguiling. All In One opens with ambient noises and the soft sound of a distinctively Brazilian guitar, Gilberto’s voice immediately velvety and inviting as she delivers a “canção de amor” (love song). A piano enters later, introducing a sound that is central to what will prove to be the softest of the singer’s albums.
Second up is a bilingual version of Bob Marley’s “Sun Is Shining” (a nod perhaps to fellow Brazilian CéU’s cover of “Concrete Jungle”). Gilberto ups the tempo a little for this track and adds a funky bassline, but this is still more chill-out groove than dance floor mover, though it does not rule out the very likely possibility of being transformed into the latter via the kind of remix treatment that Gilberto’s work has previously been given.
Bossa chords, this time delivered by the piano, drive Gilberto’s version of her father’s “Bim Bom” which features Daniel Jobim, grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim. The song is essentially an exercise in syllabic singing and playing, the angular piano, shuffling percussion and scat-like vocals providing a rhythm quite different from the electronic soundworld of “Sun Is Shining”
There’s a rather more hectic soundworld on the cover of Stevie Wonder’s “The Real Thing”, produced by Mark Ronson and featuring the Dap Kings, the band responsible for backing up Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse. Heavier percussion is in evidence here, while the bass fights for space, the brass blasts and Gilberto’s vocal floats above the mix in an agreeable way. Returning to calmer waters, “Far From The Sea” (written by Robertinho Brant and Emerson Pena) is a softly-voiced lament that mixes languor and melancholy to moving effect.
Gilberto admits that love was on her mind when she recorded her latest album. This certainly comes across in the self-written songs, most of which are sung in Portuguese with occasional lines rendered in English. But, by Gilberto’s own past standards, this does not seem a full-blooded body of work. There isn’t the relative variety one finds when moving between her first three albums and it’s certainly far less adventurous than CéU’s work. All In One is instead a contented album by a contented woman, a series of shared moments that may not challenge but will not offend either. Whether that is a blessing or a curse will no doubt depend on her listeners’ dispositions.
Some may be anxious about the essentially unchanging nature of this music and its tendency to invite responses that highlight its lightness and balminess. However, as Gilberto signaled with her previous album Momento (2007), this is a music of moments rather than events, of transient impressions rather than big stories. It has the confidence and maturity to know that the everyday is as much a repository of memories as the evental. Unafraid of nostalgia, it seeks the best of the past to make the present a sunnier place. We don’t have to be suspicious of such a desire.
// Notes from the Road
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